Hercules in children’s literature: a ‘warts and all’ model of masculinity?
This chapter will examine various portrayals of Hercules in English-language children’s literature throughout the late-nineteenth and the twentieth century, focusing on the various ways in which authors have chosen to deal with (or sometimes omit) his less heroic activities (murder of wife and children, adultery) and other aspects which might be considered unsuitable for children but are essential to the ancient myth (e.g. his conception).
References to Hercules and his exploits as a role-model and inspirations for young boys across the period will also be examined in order to establish the positive qualities perceived by the authors as worthy of emulation by the boys of their time. Changing contemporary models of masculinity are referenced explicitly or implicitly as comparanda for Hercules (e.g. modern military heroes, competitors in ‘strongman’ contests, comic book characters).
Finally the chapter will consider the extent to which and the ways in which children’s authors felt and tried to reconcile these possible tensions. Earlier children’s versions, even for the youngest target audiences, are generally less likely to censor the myths or to make them ‘politically correct’ than very modern ones, but evidently the need was sometimes felt at least to mitigate unheroic aspects, leading many authors to give great weight to the twelve labours being an act of atonement (sometimes in overtly Christianising terms) for the murders, when the murders are not omitted.